Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
February 24, 2019
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Pritzker makes his budget cases
Illinois’ new governor made a triumphant appearance before legislators last week, delivering a well-received speech about the state’s woes that included promises to tax and spend his way to a $38.7 billion balanced budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
It was a challenge to determine which was longer — his lists of tax increases or spending increases.
But all that — which was more than enough — paled beside Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pledge to spend much of his time leading up to November 2020 pushing an even bigger tax proposal — a constitutional amendment replacing the current mandated flat income tax with a progressive income tax.
“The state needs a fair tax, and I am going to be relentless in pursuing one over the next two years,” Pritzker said.
That statement foreshadows the political strategy Pritzker and like-minded politicians will embrace — a progressive tax levying higher rates on rising levels of income is fair, while the current flat tax is not.
It’s a credible argument. But those who disagree have their own good points to make. For example, do the taxpayers really want to entrust more of their hard-earned money to the same politicians whose horrific financial decisions have pretty much destroyed the state’s financial standing over the past 15 years?
That, of course, is a debate for another day.
For now, Pritzker is trying to fill the budget holes created by our elected officials’ long-standing insistence on spending far more money than the state brings in.
That’s why Pritzker’s budget is balanced based on projections of tax revenues the state will receive if existing taxes (cigarettes, video gambling) are increased and new revenue-generating programs (legalized marijuana, sports betting) are passed.
Among other things, Pritzker also proposed a 5-cent tax on plastic bags and new taxes on insurance companies to help finance Medicaid. He’s nickel-and-diming his way to purported solvency.
Most disappointing is Pritzker’s plan to divert $878 million in state money that otherwise would go to its flagging public-pension systems ($133 billion underfunded) to other programs.
That deferral will extend the Legislature’s current deadline for paying down the underfunding — a schedule they’ve repeatedly ignored since it was put in place under former Gov. Jim Edgar — from 2045 to 2052.
Indeed, decisions over the years to borrow from Peter to pay Paul is one of the reasons why pension underfunding jumped from $35 billion in 2004 to $133 billion in 2019. A dollar not invested today in the pensions requires $3 or $4 to make up in a few years.
Pritzker has big plans for that money — he wants to increase K-12 and higher-education spending by $630 million and social-service spending by $542 million.
What was especially striking about Pritzker’s budget address is his description of his budget as “more austere than I would like.”
In other words, Pritzker wants to spend a lot more, but, for now at least, he can’t. That’s where his plans for the graduated income tax come in.
Pritzker views it — and the many billions in new revenues that he anticipates it would bring in — as a panacea for Illinois finances.
That’s not all the planned taxing and spending, either.
Pritzker — along with legislators — is going to push a massive capital-spending plan — details on the construction and the higher taxes needed to pay for it to come later.
Clearly, it’s a new day in Springfield. It remains to be seen if it’s a better one.
Most striking was the difference between Pritzker’s appearance before the General Assembly on Wednesday and that of former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Critics blasted Rauner’s proposed balanced budgets as “smoke and mirrors” because they were based on financial projections that depended on his ability to work out a “grand compromise” with the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Pritzker’s budget is similarly based on projections that rely on legislative cooperation. But his budget was characterized by the Chicago Tribune as the product of “hope and prayers.”
It’s not at all clear what the substantive difference between the two gubernatorial approaches actually is.
But it’s a certainty that Democratic legislative leaders are geared up to implement virtually all — if not all — of what Pritzker would like to do.
February 22, 2019
Sauk Valley Media
We must do more to stop the killing
Another tragedy has befallen our communities at the point of a gun, this one claiming the lives of five innocent people working at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora and leaving five police officers wounded.
We extend our condolences to all who have suffered a loss, and thank the first responders for placing their own lives in jeopardy to protect citizens.
But our sympathies and support for our neighbors is not enough. We as a society have a duty to do a better job protecting Americans in the places where they learn, work and worship.
There is more that we can do. Although we support the right of people to bear arms, it is not unreasonable to put more safeguards in place to prevent people who should not possess deadly weapons from legally obtaining them. Better enforcement and reasonable enhancement of gun laws should be a priority in Illinois.
There are a couple of proposals, which could have prevented the shooter from legally owning a gun, that make sense. One would require people who apply for a FOID card to submit fingerprints, to be checked against the FBI database, to prove they are not felons. Another would increase the fee to obtain a Firearm Owners Identification card, currently at $10, in order to devote more resources to background checks and maintaining the registration system.
Both of these steps seem reasonable means of keeping weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. They might have prevented the tragedy that unfolded on Feb. 15 in Aurora.
The shooter in the latest incident, a veteran employee who opened fire during a hearing that was to end his employment at the plant, purchased a gun legally in Illinois, but should not have been able to do so. Although he had a felony conviction on his record in Mississippi, that was not detected when he applied for a Firearm Owners Identification card in Illinois in 2014. When later he applied for a concealed carry permit, the shooter submitted fingerprints, which led to the discovery of his criminal record. That disqualified him not only from carrying concealed, but from owning a weapon at all.
Illinois State Police say the shooter’s FOID card was then revoked, but local police did not submit paperwork that would have led them to confiscate the Smith & Wesson handgun used in the attack.
Had the shooter submitted fingerprints at the time he applied for a FOID card, he never would have been able to buy the gun. Had the system been properly administered, that gun might have been confiscated.
Illinois already requires people in many licensed professions to undergo fingerprint-based background checks, including locksmiths, child care workers, real estate appraisers, massage therapists, and others. It is not unreasonable to ask people to provide the same level of proof to show they are fit to own a deadly weapon as they are to appraise property.
If adding this enhanced level of background checking requires an increase in the FOID fee, then it is worth it to protect public safety.
Understandably, some may find these changes inconvenient or unfair. But instances of mass murder have become too prevalent in our communities and across the country.
We must enforce the gun laws we have and take sensible measures to enhance them while still respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to own weapons.
February 18, 2019
The Quincy Herald-Whig
Father Tolton’s cause for sainthood progresses
Canonization efforts moved forward earlier this month for the Rev. Augustus Tolton, the nation’s first black priest -- who found both acceptance and resistance in Quincy during the late 1800s.
The cause of sainthood for Tolton, who was a Catholic priest in Quincy for three years in the 1880s and is buried here, was moved forward this month by the Theological Consultants and Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome. Now the cardinals and archbishops in the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, as well as Pope Francis, will begin their examination of Tolton’s life.
“We hope Father Tolton will be declared ‘venerable’ before the end of the year,” said the Rev. Daren Zehnle, pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and a Quincy native who has helped in the canonization process.
If Tolton were to be declared “venerable,” Rome would next investigate a miraculous healing attributable to Tolton’s intercession. If that is found to have occurred, he would be declared “blessed.” Another miracle would make him a saint. At least one miracle has already been submitted for review.
“This is a very exciting time,” Zehnle told The Herald-Whig. “To have someone from our diocese on the way to sainthood is a source of great joy. His life of long suffering and perseverance in the face of slavery, prejudice and hatred is a great witness of faith.”
Born in 1854, Tolton, his mother and siblings escaped from a slaveholder in Ralls County, Mo., in 1862, crossed the Mississippi River and reached Quincy, where there was a measure of safety during the Civil War. Quincy was known for its abolitionist movement, and Tolton was accepted at St. Peter School and later at the precursor of Quincy University.
Unable to attend an American seminary because of his race, Tolton finished his religious studies through the Urban College of Rome and was ordained there.
Upon his return to Quincy on July 17, 1886, reports indicated that hundreds of Quincyans welcomed him home. Yet another Quincy priest used racial slurs from the pulpit to attack and belittle the black priest.
At his own request, Tolton was reassigned in 1889 to a church in Chicago. It was there that Tolton died of heat stroke at age 43, on July 9, 1897. His body was brought back to Quincy for burial.
Tolton was welcomed, nurtured and educated in Quincy starting more than 150 years ago. His stature as a man of God already has been established in this region.
It would be good to see this humble man, who broke down barriers, celebrated as a saint.